Our old school keeps getting new rules. Another way to say that is, they'll be serving beer this year at the College World Series.
Not for everyone, mind you. If you have a ticket to a suite or the club area at TD Ameritrade Park for the CWS, you may belly up to the bar. Don't forget to tip.
Of course, with NCAA officials, there's always a kicker, even if it's their idea. The drink can't go to the seats outside the club area. It has to stay indoors.
There it is, another first from the ever-changing, ever-evolving NCAA. For those who insist a new stadium and 25-year deal weren't necessary because the NCAA would never leave Omaha, I submit this: Did you ever think you would see alcohol available at the CWS?
Jack Diesing Jr., the headmaster of old-school CWS, the keeper of the purities and the funnel cakes, takes a deep breath when this topic comes up. This is not the CWS he grew up with. Nor the one his father nurtured from anonymity into a national TV show on ESPN.
In fact, Diesing says it's “not off the table” that there would be a day when you could buy a beer anywhere in the stadium at the CWS.
What would Jack Sr. have said about that? Likely, you do what you gotta do to make it the best experience possible. And, he'd remind that while Omaha throws the bash, it's still the NCAA's party.
“This event is evolving,” Jack Jr. said. “But I don't see it in my lifetime getting away from the core values that we've had for 64 years.”
This is Diesing's 25th CWS as president of CWS, Inc., the local organization that treats the event with the care of a rare jewel. He took the baton from his dad, who taught him and everyone that there's an Omaha way of doing this. The right way. The best way.
But this year might be the most emotional CWS for Diesing since he took over for his dad in 1989.
This is the final at-bat for Dennis Poppe, the NCAA's vice president of championships and alliances. That's a fancy title for “guy who runs the CWS.”
Jack and Denny have run it together, like a partnership, for 25 years. They hit it off immediately and became so close that they've attended graduations and weddings of each other's kids. That's the kind of thing that can happen only at the CWS, only in Omaha.
“Some people have likened us to brothers from different mothers,” Diesing said. “There's a trust there. His word was his bond. My word was my bond. We were able to argue and disagree without it getting personal. We had a goal of what was best for the event.”
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They did it all together, the changes at Rosenblatt Stadium, the renewal of contracts, the move downtown, split of revenues, sharing with the Olympic Swim Trials, etc. Jack always had a kindred spirit in his friend Dennis, a former linebacker at Missouri who embraced Midwest values. Neither of the two chums was excited about leaving Rosenblatt. A younger staff member at the NCAA said if you're going to spend all that money to renovate Rosenblatt, why not think of a new stadium?
They have been open to change, with the times. There has been a lot of give and take, though with the NCAA it's mostly take. As Diesing reminds, it's the NCAA's event.
“One year we had been sitting in a room for hours and we had a little hiccup on something,” Diesing said. “Which, in hindsight, I wished I had not given in on.
“But it's 10 p.m. and Dennis calls and says, 'We're so ticked off that we're going to leave tomorrow morning at 6. We're not going to have any more meetings.'
“I was able to call a few people. It wasn't a big point. We got it worked out. I called and said, 'I think leaving tomorrow is a little over the top.' We had the kind of relationship where you could play tough guy and still come up with the right answer.”
The Diesing-Poppe relationship has been a rock for CWS fans here, whether they be one of the five mayors Diesing has worked with or bleacher bums. The future? Who knows?
It helps that there are 24 years left on the current NCAA contract. It also helps that Poppe's successor, Damani Leech, has been working with Poppe for several years and has a good relationship with Diesing.
But the NCAA is an interesting place these days. Poppe is one of the last of the old cowboys on the NCAA staff, which has been reshuffled over and over through the years. With new senior leadership, the way the NCAA does things has changed, too. And could continue to change.
Does the prospect of not having his good buddy around make Diesing apprehensive or nervous about the future?
“No,” Diesing said. “I have no reservations about doing it without Dennis. He's been a good partner, but he's got a good staff and they have a succession plan. We know the senior people at the NCAA. I personally have received assurance from them that they plan on continuing the relationship and success of this event as before with Dennis.”
Nor has Poppe's retirement got Diesing, 67, thinking along those lines. Jack Sr. stayed in his position until he was 72, and Jack Jr. can see going longer than that.
“I feel pretty young, and I think there's a benefit to me being involved,” Diesing said. “As long as I'm adding something to the equation ... I'm going to do it for the foreseeable future.”
Diesing's job one will be to keep the balance tilted toward more old school over new school. The NCAA has allowed alcohol served at the Final Four and other events, but in the “hospitality” or suite areas only. That's a new thing. Also, in recent years, the NCAA tournament has become more corporate, or antiseptic, to the point where you don't know where any event is staged.
We always want to know that the CWS is in Omaha, with all the trimmings. That's the battle Diesing must fight.
“Words you shouldn't use are never, ever and always,” Diesing said. “But I would say, in my opinion, the absolute worst thing the NCAA could do is make (the CWS) antiseptic, like the Final Four. It won't be a success then.
“The reason it's a success is because it's accessible to kids. It's baseball. It's people hanging around doing stuff.”
Diesing says he's one of these people who, when someone wants to change something with the CWS, says, “Why the heck would we want to do that?” But even he admits the times are a-changin'.
“You need to keep up with the times and realize that the people you're attracting are not the same people you were attracting 25 years ago,” Diesing said. “People got other things to do. You make it wholesome baseball and fun for the family. We don't want to change that.”
Opening up the beer taps around the stadium would change that, of course. The CWS becomes just another sporting event then. And frankly, it's not necessary. There's plenty of suds outside the park.
“I'm not going to say it's going to happen, but it's not off the table that it would be available for the entire stadium,” Diesing said. “But until we get the people running on the field under control ... and this beach ball thing. I used to think it was cool. But now it's starting to tick me off.”
That's the old-school headmaster talking. As long as he's in charge, old school will be in session.
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